When a Buddy Helps You Make It

By: Anne Wood

Other Posts by this Author

December 16, 2018 | 50th Anniversary Stories

I joined our ‘Sweden:  Dogsledding to the ICEHOTEL’ trip in March 2007. The trip spent one night in Stockholm and then flew 120 miles north to the arctic, where we spent several days and nights dogsledding from cabin to cabin through the Lapland wilderness.

This is remote, arctic Sweden in March, which means very deep snow and freezing temperatures. Our accommodations were rustic, single-room cabins lit by kerosene lamps and kept warm with a food fire, and one night in a Lavu (like a tee-pee). Dogsledding is a very physical experience that requires good balance and coordination, much like skiing. You can expect to fall down several times as you get used to driving your own team of excited dogs racing through the forest on ice and snow. This was an authentic adventure—wet, cold, dirty, and absolutely fantastic, if you’re prepared.

At the welcome orientation in Stockholm, I met a fellow guest who would be joining us on the adventure. His name was Harry and he was in his nineties. On the morning of day two, we all met up at the bus to be transferred to the airport for our flight north to the arctic. It was very cold outside and we were all bundled up in our down jackets with thermal layers underneath. Harry came down to the bus wearing an argyle sweater vest, pleated slacks, and loafers. He carried a small bowling-ball-sized bag, and nothing else. I asked, “Harry, would you like help carrying your luggage down from your room?”

“This is my luggage,” he said.

“No, I mean your check-in luggage, Harry. With your warm layers. Can we help you with that?”

“I told you, this is my luggage.” Harry replied again.

He wasn’t joking. In fact, he had only brought with him a few belongings, none of which included thermal underwear, gloves or a proper jacket. I stepped aside discreetly with our guide (Anna), and asked whether we might want to consider sending Harry home, considering that this would be an athletic experience in arctic conditions—one that required preparation and correct gear. Anna reassured me that she had plenty of insulated layers for Harry, including hats and boots and gloves. He wouldn’t freeze, and as long as I kept a good eye on him, he should be fine.

“I’m sorry?” I asked.

“This isn’t the first person who has shown up for one of our trips ill-prepared. I think it would be good for you to experience this. If you can be Harry’s ‘buddy’ and stay close to him, I think he will be fine.” She said.

And so it was. For the next five days, I was Harry’s buddy.

I gave him some thermal underwear and helped Harry get ready each day, bringing him his boots and holding him for balance while he pulled them on. I repeated everything the guides said into his ear, so he could hear, and asked him all about his life and his travels and his loving wife of many years. I harnessed his dogs for him, and walked him to the outhouse in the middle of the night, in case he fell down.

Each day, we sled in a single line, with me directly in front of Harry. Every time he fell off his sled his dogs would continue running. They would eventually catch up to me, and I would stop them, step on my own break, and wait for as long as it took for Harry to slowly get back up, and trudge 300 feet in the snow to where we (myself and 8 jumping, yapping, dogs) waited, while holding on to their reigns with one hand, and my own sled with the other.

One day, Harry fell off his sled for the last time and decided he’d had enough. He just sat there in the snow. After I caught his dogs, I looked over my shoulder and saw him looking defiant and defeated, arms crossed across his chest, and I said, “Common Harry!  Let’s keep going!”

“I’m not going anywhere. I’m done!” Harry said.

“Harry, we have to keep going. There isn’t a bus stop anywhere nearby. Let’s not freeze, OK?”

“No! I’m done!” Harry said again.

The snow was falling steadily around us and the rest of our group was out of sight. The sounds of their dogs long since faded, and now it was just Harry and I in the snowy woods, many miles from home. I stood there for a moment, resisting the urge to bark at Harry to get up and get moving. Instead I said, “Harry…. Harry, the next cabin is only around this bend. We’re only about 1-minute from a warm fire and cup of cocoa. Let’s make it to the finish line together, Harry. You got this!”

After considering this for a moment, Harry pulled himself up, losing his balance a couple of times in the process, and stumbled heroically back to his sled.

I had no idea how far away our cabin was.

We started sledding again, and as we came around the bend, I saw a beautiful sight—our cabin, with smoke coming out of the chimney, and our guide standing there waiting for us, with a thermos of warm cocoa in hand.

At the end of our adventure, we flew back to Stockholm and to our final night hotel. On the way, Harry showed me his passport, which must have been an inch thick. He’d been traveling his entire life, on all seven continents, through deserts and over mountains. He was perhaps the most traveled person I’ve ever known.

His wife had passed away not long before, and his eyes welled up with tears when he shared with me that, “We always wanted to see the ICEHOTEL.”

This experience really made me understand what our guides do on a regular basis. They strive incredibly hard to make dreams comes true, even if the dreams seem impossible. It also helped me recognize the power of the spirit of adventure, which keeps people focused on reaching their goal—despite the trials faced along the way.

Harry, thank you for sharing your adventure with me!

Anne Wood, MT Sobek Senior Director of Programs

MT Sobek Trip: Dogsledding to the ICEHOTEL, 2007